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12th July 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Taking the form of a turn-based puzzle game, Candle Route tasks you with guiding a fire-based character named Sparky through fields of squares within fair-sized, enclosed layouts. The overall goal is to gather and escort what are called Match Babies over to the Candle Man -- a cheery fellow who no doubt comes from the same agency as the Muffin Man. The first couple stages will only have you focusing on just the one candle, but this will change as the levels progress by having you work out paths to light multiple candles. Right away, the system is great because of how simple it is to control. All you have to do is plant flags directly on the environment spread out across the Touch Screen and press 'Walk' to start your turn. The top screen will offer a closer look at the action down below as you watch Sparky carry out his directives as assigned. You don't have to walk right through Match Babies to have them join your team; you just have to be at least one space next to them and they'll jump to your side as though you were their guiding light. Flags can only be placed on empty squares, meaning that two trips will be required in order to get to some of the candles wedged up against a corner, so it also makes for a bit of planning on your part.
What's kind of neat about the setup is that in keeping with the turn-based system, Candle Route has blended into the mix a mini-golf-style approach where you need to reach a par with only a set amount of flags to work with. Puzzle layouts are organized in such a way that they progressively offer more options for solutions, allowing you to go for a Birdie or even a Hole-in-one. Gold chests add another layer to the number of possible outcomes. Often slightly out of the way, they force you to adapt a different strategy so you can still make the par score. All of this lends itself to the emergence of positive replay value, and when you consider that there are over 100 stages on offer, it's really commendable to see everything come together in the way that it does.
he impression you'll get from the first 15 minutes with the game will likely be the same as mine; that it's a quick and easy puzzle game for kids. Contributing much to this is the presence of an adorable, super-friendly atmosphere. Like a child walking into a daycare center for the first time, there's a fun feeling that comes across in the game's use of primary colours as well as the good use of piano in its background music to give the feeling of an animated series on television. Candle Route has qualities of a production made by an in-house team at Nintendo, with touches that bear resemblances to Paper Mario, Pikmin, and Yoshi's Island. At the same time, though, the game feels original for the way in which it latches onto themes of imagination and childhood exploration without doing so in a primitive way. With all of the above in mind, wondering if the game becomes anything that older fans can appreciate is certainly an appropriate point to consider. And despite what the look of the game might suggest, Candle Route expertly caters to multiple age groups to make everyone feeling good by the end of it all.
Making absolutely certain that those embers of strategy-focused puzzling burn bright, Candle Route does not shy away from delving deeper than what the simple structure makes itself out to be from the get-go. Changes in gameplay come in gradually, each having valid purpose in the building up of the game's design and ensuring that an addicting level of engagement is maintained. For example, panels marked with directional arrows will redirect Sparky from his current path onto a different route that will still have you reaching the same destination, but often with more Match Babies on your side, you'll end up saving yourself an extra turn in the process. Then, too, you have puddles that must be evaporated by lighting nearby candles; ground that can only be crossed once before they leave a hole for you to fall in; match boxes that open and close when switches are pressed; and dynamite that can trick you into wasting matches so you come up short when you make your way to the final Candle Man. All of this makes for some challenging solutions that older puzzle fans will feel satisfied with. But looking at it more deeply than that, all of this goes back to what I said earlier about the theme of imagination. Players will be exploring and experimenting with different possibilities, and it's for that reason that the game never becomes dull. Candle Route thus succeeds in its presentation of new mechanics, not only for the excellent pace that is produced as a result of these different elements, but also the core values that resonate with players as they progress.
For times when you just can't seem to come up with the right solution (not even for a Bogey), you have two hint systems to help you out. The first simply gives you the answer as to the first and second moves you need to make, still leaving players with room to figure things out for themselves. The second system put in place is even more interesting in the way that it too encourages you to explore possible outcomes. If you fail to clear a puzzle by running out of flags and then choose to restart, burn marks will be left on squares where you planted flags to remind you of how you chose to approach the situation last time. Without feeling like you're being pushed to the right answer, these do a very nice job of leading players along the right track and encourage a spirit of planning and sustained interest. With the added degree of freedom that the non-linear progression allows for, frustration doesn't even begin to come into the picture here and it's so encouraging to sense not so much as a hint of it creeping in. Even without driving difficulty and interest through the use of hard curveballs and sharp twists, the game never bores. It may be light in tensity, but that doesn't stop it from being nonetheless captivating, which is perhaps one of the most noteworthy attributes to the game.
Adding variety to the package is a bonus mode where you play the exact same puzzle layouts under a new set of objectives. Side B, as it's called, has you involved in the same gathering activity, but this time the goal is to bring Match Babies to rockets ready to be launched into outer space. Bringing a single Match Baby to one of the rockets will allow Sparky to move at a faster speed, presenting its own element of strategy as far as how and when you choose to drop off your collected units. When the speed increases, though, the controls become less responsive, and with a spotlight preventing you from seeing the entire level at once, the circumstances can get a bit annoying at times. As Side B is, after all, just a decent diversion to keep you amused periodically, and since the game would've worked just as easily without it, I can't really issue any serious complaint towards this play option. But after loving the main gameplay so much, I found this harder to get into and quickly found myself jumping back to Side A. In a similar vein of offering a slight diversion, the last puzzle in every set found in the main mode is a Special Stage where you need to collect all the flames. Again, nothing special, but it's appreciated for the way it breaks things up a bit.
Candle Route is not to be overlooked by anyone who considers themselves even a moderate fan of puzzle games, but those looking for a high-quality, family-friendly experience should especially take note. Older fans of puzzle games specifically will feel like a kid again playing Candle Route while still feeling the satisfaction that more complex puzzle experiences offer. From its refusal to stagnate to its continued encouragement of exploration in the provision of varied solutions and objectives, the game successfully offers multiple opportunities for players to establish a connection with all that's presented therein. When it comes down to it, it's not only the encapsulation of joy but also the imparting of it that makes Candle Route's delivery so memorable. An excellent game on its own merits, the unbeatable price tag bumps this up to a must-buy for all types and ages of puzzle fans.
27/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Fun and easy turn-based system, harnesses exploration and strategy in a way that's nostalgic, purposeful mechanics keep you engaged
Presentation 8/10 - Visuals bear resemblances to Nintendo properties while still feeling original, fun-filled atmosphere, themes and values resonate nicely
Enjoyment 5/5 - A truly enjoyable experience for puzzle fans young and old, frustration is completely absent, pace skillfully guards against boredom
Extra Content 5/5 - Tons of levels especially for a $2 game, Side B is a nice bonus though not as fun as the main mode, unbeatable value
Equivalent to a score of 90% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System